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Faulty chiller heats up lien talk

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PROVO — Discussion about the withholding of payments for a cooling unit that doesn't function properly became so acrimonious Thursday that the threat of a lien on Utah County's lone Olympic venue was brought up.

Surprisingly, though, it wasn't general contractor Mike Hogan who raised the subject of a lien. Instead, the board of the Provo City/Utah County Ice Sheet Authority, which owns The Peaks Ice Arena, nearly voted to encourage the filing of a lien against its own property.

"I think everyone's at the level of frustration that's over the top," said Utah County Commissioner Gary Herbert, a member of the Ice Sheet Authority Board.

Herbert made a motion that the board require Max B. Rabner, president of the company that manages The Peaks under a contract with the Ice Sheet Authority, to conduct a test on the venue's chiller by July 28. If the test hadn't happened by then, Herbert's motion would have encouraged Hogan to put a lien on the $12 million building, scheduled to host women's hockey during the 2002 Winter Olympics. Such a lien would allow Hogan to seek a court judgment forcing payment of the contract fee.

Herbert's motion received a second from Provo City Councilman Greg Hudnall. But before a vote could be taken, Provo Mayor Lewis Billings and Deputy Utah County Attorney Kent Sundberg, who both sit on the board, argued for removal of the provision about encouraging a lien on the Olympic venue.

Billings, however, acknowledged that the issue appears headed for the legal arena.

"This may well be resolved in the courts," he said.

Hogan, president of Centerville-based Hogan & Associates Construction, was encouraged not to pursue a lien until after the test slated for July 28. But following the meeting, he said he was considering action before that date.

"I'm deciding," he said. "We'd just like to get paid, that's all."

Rabner is withholding $84,091 owed to Hogan until the issue is resolved. What really angered Hogan was that after the Ice Sheet Authority board last month voted to have Rabner release $55,000 of $129,000 still owed at that time, Rabner's check to Hogan was for only $45,000.

But Rabner said Thursday he needed to continue holding $84,091 because it represented one-half the total cost of replacing the chiller, in the event that becomes necessary.

"It's extremely frustrating to continually be painted as the one who's holding this up," Rabner told the board.

After the meeting, Rabner was asked whether he felt the Ice Sheet Authority board was undermining his position as the board's agent.

"It's not the type of support I would expect on a facility they have invested in," he said.

The Peaks Ice Arena was built under a public-private partnership. Provo and Utah County each paid $2 million, the Salt Lake Organizing Committee put up $6 million and The Peaks paid about $1 million. Money also came from the Utah Sports Authority.

The building's chiller is where heat transfer takes place between brine, which circulates through concrete slabs under the ice, and Freon gas, which allows cooling and releases heat into the atmosphere. The chiller, manufactured by Olympic sponsor York Refrigeration, works, but it is not as efficient as it should be, Hogan said.

The chiller apparently has a leak near a gasket that separates two compartments of the unit.

Hogan says neither his company nor its subcontractors are responsible for the malfunctioning unit. Instead, he considers it a problem that should be worked out between SLOC and York, which provided the chiller as part of its sponsorship agreement.

On his reasons for withholding the money, Rabner said he was just protecting his own interest and that of the Ice Sheet Authority. If Hogan pursues a lien, The Peaks Ice Arena also has legal recourse that could come back to bite the contractor, Rabner said.

"I certainly don't want to go to that point," Rabner said.

The board passed a motion that asks Rabner to ensure the test takes place by July 28. If the chiller tests OK, the remaining money should be released to Hogan, the board said.


E-MAIL: carter@desnews.com